Keep up with essential planning news and commentary, delivered to your inbox every Monday and Thursday.
A Peek at the Future Downtown San Diego Without a New Charger Stadium
After spurning San Diego's stadium redevelopment efforts for the glitter of Los Angeles, only to be rejected in favor of Stan Kroenke's Inglewood uber-opulent stadium project, Chargers' owner Dean Spanos came back to San Diego—not with relationship repair humility but with an audacious and shameless demand: Build him a stadium on the city's most valuable public land downtown and spend $1 billion in tax dollars (plus the cost of ancillary infrastructure upgrades), via a hotel tax hike, to do it. It was the type of petulant demand for which NFL owners have become infamous, and to which cities too often capitulate due to the extreme popularity of pro football, whose advocates seem to equate support of the home team to patriotism.
However, San Diegans had only recently experienced the hardship and uncertainty of poor municipal financial decisions of the not so distant past, which included among other things, a yet not paid-off stadium expansion and a widely derided Charger ticket guarantee, followed of course, by Spanos's attempted abandonment of the city. Rather than negotiate with city officials, who are almost uniformly opposed to the proposal, Spanos decided to bypass the guardians of the city's purse via a ballot initiative banking on home team populism. Moreover, to give the stadium the appearance of a "multi-purpose" facility, the ballot initiative proposes to combine it with a new convention annex, which is uniformly opposed by the convention industry (who prefer a contiguous expansion of the existing facility to accommodate large conventions and avoid scheduling conflicts with sports events). Even the city's popular annual Comic-Con went on record declaring such a facility to be a misstep. Thus it threatens to be two boondoggles in one. The proposed project has become known as the "Convadium."
But even before Spanos's measure, another billionaire ballot measure sought to rezone the site for sports and entertainment in an apparent effort to facilitate a new Charger stadium and convention annex. This measure was pushed by downtown hotel developer JMI (John Moores' development coompany), who apparently desired his own tax-funded convention facility, and oddly aided by notorious statewide litigator of municipal endeavors, attorney Corey Briggs. Emboldened by the Briggs/JMI measure, Spanos decided to up the ante.
In this environment, an alternative and more urban vision has arisen. Do you want to see what the proposed stadium site might look like in the future without a "Convadium"? Check out the recently released East Village South Draft Focus Plan: Web link (faster loading but loses some formatting) or PDF link (slower downloading but original document). Packed with great illustrations, it's not a dry read. It is the culmination of community workshops held earlier in the year and the efforts of some of the city's most prominent architects. The effort was sponsored by the American Institute of Architects - San Diego and Citizens for Century III (C-3). Unlike the Spanos plan, development won't tap $1 billion plus in public funds and property, but is designed to generate public funds, high paying jobs, and economic activity. It also won't result in the large-scale displacement of homeless from the East Village nor have the negative traffic, noise, automobile pollution, and view blockage on the adjacent neighborhoods. Contrary to the claims of stadium proponents, the Focus Plan will happen—is happening—faster than a Convadium. Unlike a mega-public project requiring rezoning, land assemblage, eminent domain, demolition of historic resources, large-scale environmental clean-up, removal of the MTS bus yards, spanning earthquake faults, bond issuance, and possibly years of litigation, the East Village Focus Plan is already happening, will near completion and create benefits much sooner than a Convadium. The projects are privately funded, except for affordable housing funds, and is happening on a lot by lot, block by block basis, not having to wait for all hurdles to be cleared before construction can commence.